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Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Families

Back-to-School Tips for Special Needs Families

3 things you can do to ensure your child with special needs has a successful school year

It’s never too late to make sure your child is succeeding in school—especially if your child has special needs. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which took effect during the 2017-2018 school year as a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, states are expected to prepare students for college and vocational programs, as well as support a well-rounded education. Factors such as attendance, school climate, and access to advanced placement coursework are included in measuring a portion of each school’s performance.

Unfortunately, ESSA is not fully inclusive of students with disabilities. As of October 2018, 80 percent of states hadn’t yet detailed the interventions designed for children with disabilities, and more than half will wait three or more years before they intervene in low performing schools. ESSA has also done away with the penalties of not achieving adequate yearly progress.

With this common trend of politicians and policymakers failing to meet their obligations to students due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the issues that students, advocates, and teachers face on a daily basis, it’s up to parents to use the tools they do have.

Here are three things you can do to help your child succeed in school every year:

Review Your Child’s Individualized Education Program

Many parents don’t know that schools are required to update Individualized Education Programs for each new school year. This document details the following:

  • Your child’s classification
  • An itemized list of recommendations made during Committee on Special Education meetings
  • Proposed and refused actions, including evaluation procedures, assessments, and reports
  • Parent and student input and concerns
  • Current performance, strengths, and needs
  • Transition planning
  • Specific, measurable annual goals and short-term objectives with defined performance criteria
  • Accommodations and modifications (services and supports), including assistive technology
  • Special factors regarding behavior that impedes your child’s learning or that of others
  • A progress reporting schedule
  • Exit criteria: What do your student’s post-secondary transition goals look like? Will she remain in school until age 21, or will he take a different path?
  • A chart of special education and related services to be provided, how frequently and by whom, as well as a description of expected participation in general education curriculum, all in consideration of the least restrictive environment
  • Any extended school-year services required  

Ease Your Child’s Anxiety

Even under the best circumstances, children might have anxiety about returning to school—especially if they have new teachers, new aides, new classmates, new environments, or new expectations. After all, change and new challenges cause anxiety in adults, too! Here are a few things you (and your child) can do to help make this transition easier:

  • Practice yoga and meditation.
  • Meet up with friends.
  • Discuss what will be the same and what will be different.
  • Maintain consistency in sleep, homework, and activity times.
  • Practice techniques used to calm down when upset.
  • Repeat positive affirmations.

Establish Good Lines of Communication

Because children spend so many hours a day at school with teachers and related service providers, it’s important for parents to help lay the groundwork for continuous, meaningful communication throughout the year. These are some methods you can employ:

  • Establish a communication log that travels with your child.
  • Schedule brief, periodic 1-on-1 meetings with members of your child’s team.
  • When you have a concern, mention it as soon as possible.
  • When you’re pleased about something, express that as well.

Having a support system of friends, family, and professionals makes a tremendous difference in a person’s life, particularly when raising a child with special needs. Participating in parent organizations, social programs, and community events can help you create a strong network of people who provide information, encouragement, and assistance when navigating new school years and other difficult moments of your journey.  


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Sponsored by Laura Adler-Greene, Esq.


Laura Adler-Greene, Esq., an associate at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Cohen, provides representation for students with disabilities and their parents. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association, an Adjunct Professor at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center, and a published author in the Touro Law Review.

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